Let’s Fix Things That are Broken

When it comes to trying to understand what modern America is thinking, I know of no pollster better than Peter Hart. His years of experience enable him to find and hear the reality behind the numbers, to recognize and explain it when it often slides by others unnoticed.

In the August 19th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Hart wrote about a woman in Colorado named Jennifer Howard, who he has watched on her journey through today’s political confusion. What she says about what she wants to see happen in America is vital not just for this election, but for all the years that follow it.

She told Hart:

“What I want to see is [people fixing] the things that are broken, I want people to focus more on our country, which is falling apart…We have the upper 1%, but the trickle-down effect isn’t working. So [attitudes are] let’s just continue squeezing that middle class…We can’t fix the world, we’ve proven that. We keep trying to go out there. We’re not fixing it. Well, let’s fix our country. That’s what I want.”

Boy, does that resonate with what I see every day in Maine, New York, and DC. She correctly senses that democracy is a participatory process, which goes way beyond occasionally voting, and requires all of us to actually do things for ourselves and others. While that might not have been at the front of her conscious mind, her continued use of ‘we’ indicates that she thinks we all have a role to play in fixing our country.

The same morning that I saw Hart’s piece I drove past two friends—sisters—whom I have known for a long time, walking together along a well-travelled country road in our summer home town, a road that has long been littered with trash. My friends saw that problem and set out to fix it. For quite a while, they have been taking their morning walk along that road and bring plastic bags and gloves, picking the roadside clean of trash as they go.

I asked them what got them started picking up trash. They both said—almost in one voice—that the community has been good to them and that cleaning the roadside seemed like an easy way to give back! It didn’t take a vote or a call to a government office, but now that roadside is cleaner than it has been in years. Perhaps if more folks looked around more often, they would see the many things they could do on their own to make their world better for everyone.

Imagine what our world might look like if as few as 10% of Americans–35 million people—did something simple once a week: helping a kid who missed the bus get to school, taking the newspaper to an older person who cannot get it herself, helping a neighbor’s kid with homework. In a few months, this old-fashioned but novel attitude could take root that could grow into something real and lasting.

No politics at all need be involved—just human interest and a little bit of generosity.

There are obviously problems that can only be solved with the power of government, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some of the smaller tasks off its hands.

Maybe if we work together to solve the country’s smaller problems, it will become easier to solve our larger ones using the same state of mind.

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Truth Trumps Everything

On Tuesday, November 1, 2016 one week before Election Day the political polls universally showed Clinton leading by over 12 points nationally and winning 49 out of 50 states.

Trump asked the TV networks for ½ an hour of time to make a major announcement. They agreed and offered Clinton the same.

The country went on an electric alert, not having a clue what he had in mind.

Trump selected his Florida home ball room to make his announcement in front of the glitzy chandeliers reminiscent of the Kremlin.

He stepped to the podium surrounded by his third wife and all three families of his children, wearing a golf outfit and carrying his own club bag, with a flag that said: “Freedom here we come.”

He did not bother with introductory palaver:

“I know a lot of you think I am a fabulous, winning narcissistic pig.

If only more of you could know the real me—you know the amazing, stupendous me.

I am perhaps the biggest and best, unbeatable altruist in the world. And, what I have done for you this year proves that statement to be true. No –  Jeff Bezos Washington Post– zero Pinocchios!

You cannot know how hard it has been for me to play the role I have played all these months. To come down so hard on my old friend McCain was not easy. I felt really bad about mimicking that crippled New York Times reporter. And that military hero Kahn and his family deserved better than what I dished them. Those highlights and many other similar things were done for a good and very important reason.

I had to gain clear and visible support from lots of stupid white working men in the rust belt to be seen as a credible force and political threat.

Why do you suppose I proposed a wall between the US and Mexico and insisted that they pay for it? I needed to gain incredulity to stiffen the spines of haters of foreigners. I know that looked crazy, when I had been using foreigners all over the country in my projects. Believe me, it takes character and guts to make oneself look so inconsistent and stupid in public—you know guts, character and solid temperament—that’s the man you have been reviling.

People have kept asking me to spell out my policy program. It was impractical and impossible for me to reveal what I really think about substance –mainly because I do not think about that subject much.  Also what I believe deep down would not have worked out well for a Republican, or any other serious, candidate.  I hope you will understand why I was covering up how decent I really am— really decent—it was not easy!

Now that it is finally pretty clear to the world that I have safely lost the election, I can tell you about what I have been, not so quietly, doing for this country.

In early 2015 I looked at the field of Republican seekers of the Presidency and at Hillary Clinton and concluded that despite her being a serious liar — who really does care about that?—she was far and away the best person for the job. I worried about all those loser Republican contenders as not being up to the job. Therefore, I took it upon myself to wipe that field clean to give her a clear, sure shot against me.

I knew from the start that I did not want to be President—though it surely has made my brand more valuable—and that, with my limited attention span, I knew I could never do the job properly anyway.

So believe it or not –make your own choice–I set out to set things up for Hillary to become our next President.

I am very proud of my success and I want to assure her and you that I will do all I can to help get her programs fully enacted.

All I seek now is Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” on Jan. 1, 2017 and reimbursement from the Clinton campaign for the $217,000,000 I personally spent to make all this possible for her and our great country.

I now also have to admit that to my surprise that it has been fun for me.

I hope you have had some fun along the way, too?

God Bless America and all of you all.

I am off to Scotland so you will not have me to kick around anymore.”

We Have Nothing to Fear But Trump Himself

Despite the welcome bounce in Clinton’s numbers this week, the evidence grows that the conventional wisdom about Presidential campaigns is pretty useless this year. My experience as a Presidential appointee, lawyer and investment expert tells me the Clinton campaign may be closing in on a systemic and great idea.

Hillary Clinton said two things the other day that ring powerful true. Any person who can be provoked by a tweet cannot be trusted with “the button”. And, she nearly spoke what could be the memorable line of the year: “We have nothing to fear but Trump himself”.

Fear, the most primal of emotions, has long been a powerful political lever. Since FDR took office in the depths of the world’s worst economic depression, nearly every president has played on or against some American fear.

Eisenhower warned of the power of the military-industrial complex, of a future of endless war that his time as a soldier had taught him to fear and abhor.

Nixon played on the fears of “the silent majority”: crime, ethnic minorities, and the erosion of traditional values.

Reagan coined the phrase “Make America Great Again” in his 1980 presidential campaign, and evoked the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union.

The first President Bush played on America’s fear of taxation and economic stagnation by telling us to read his lips: “No new taxes”.

Years later, his son used fear of terrorism to justify the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This rhetoric of fear seemingly peaked in this year’s Republican National Convention, in which Trump seemed unable to choose, referring to crime, terrorism, political corruption, immigration, economic stagnation, China, and the inexorable forces of globalization and technological progress that are changing the nature of American life and work.

Meanwhile, the Democrat’s convention defined their fears of Trump. Obama called him a demagogue and grouped him with ISIS, the U.S.S.R., and Nazi Germany. There were repeated attacks on Trump’s character and the Democrats repeatedly questioned whether he could be trusted with “his finger anywhere near the button”.

And Trump himself, amazingly, took up the Democratic cause by attacking the Khans, a Gold Star family. He seems unable to resist going on the offensive particularly against ‘soft’ targets, proving again and again to people with any reason that his temperament makes him a genuine danger to America and the world.

A chain of former presidents or their descendants could remind the American public that Trump himself is far more dangerous to America than any foreign power or economic/cultural trend. The twisted angry faces of Trump and his followers on TV are by themselves indicators of what the rest of us have to fear.

Imagine a picture of President Reagan saying space warfare is our biggest danger and then Ron Reagan Jr saying: “I am convinced that my father would believe that Trump by himself is the biggest danger ever to our country.”

Such a chain of provocations (hopefully including the Bushes) could have great public effect, particularly if Trump plays to his normal form and hits back hard against the families of our previous Republican presidents.

There has never before been an election like this one, and polling indicates that Democratic attacks have not had much of an effect until recently. Many polls have noted that Trump’s bigoted and bellicose rhetoric has not been a problem for his voters to overlook, but a feature that actually attracts them because they feel that way themselves.

His attack now on the Khans has drawn bipartisan ire. It appears that a key to defeating him is to ignore conventional tactics and continuously provoke him into attacking anything and everything America may have left to attack.

The basic goal of provoking Trump is not to merely convey the simple message that Trump is to fear BUT to get him to fill the airwaves with his own incoherent rage and show America and the world the ‘face’ of fear.